If you’ve traveled to other countries, you may have noticed foods that we’re used to keeping in the refrigerator being left out. Like on the counter, even in warm temperatures. I was certainly concerned the first time that I saw my family store butter on the counter in their (hot) Greek village home. I thought that it was because the refrigerator was small and not so powerful. Little did I know that they knew something I didn’t: Stored in a proper container, butter fares better at room temperature. And butter is not the only food.
Here are 10 surprising foods that you don’t need to refrigerate. Just in time for summer, so you can keep from overloading your refrigerator without fear of your foods going bad.
We are coming up fast on tomato season, so it’s good to know that keeping your tomatoes on the counter is key to maximizing your tomato enjoyment. In fact, if there’s one single change you make as a result of reading this, it should be to stop refrigerating your tomatoes. Cold temperatures break down the sugars and acids that make tomatoes juicy and delicious, causing them to go mealy and bland.
Though herbs fall into two categories—hard (herbs with woody stems like rosemary and thyme) and soft (herbs with tender stems like cilantro and basil)—all of them should be stored in the refrigerator, except for basil. Like all other soft herbs, the roots of basil should be trimmed and put into a glass of fresh water that’s changed every couple of days. But instead of keeping the glass in the refrigerator, basil should be stored on the counter to keep it’s delicate leaves fresh and fragrant.
You can tell by now that this is my favorite food to keep at room temperature, because spreadable butter. That said, there are a few important caveats. First is that it’s important to know that the FDA officially recommends that butter be stored in the refrigerator. That said, they have also conceded that we can safely get away with storing butter at room temperature for a few days. Having proper butter storage is key: I own and love this French butter dish that we found at Food52, and in temperatures lower than 70 degrees, it keeps butter good for up to 2 weeks. Otherwise, consider storing only a couple of days worth of butter on the counter and the rest in the refrigerator.
4. Soy sauce, fish sauce, and hot sauce
Because of the salt and/or vinegar content in these sauces (depending on which one), they can last 2-3 years out of the refrigerator if kept in a cool, dark place. And, yes, we know that some bottles say, “Refrigerate after opening,” but even the Kikkoman website, for example, says that soy sauce will not spoil if left unrefrigerated. That said, it also says that refrigeration will help maintain quality and flavor longer, which is something to keep in mind if you barely use it.
5. Cakes and other baked goods
With summer baking season coming up, it’s good to know that you can keep those birthday cakes, fruit pies, and other freshly baked treats on your counter—yes, even if they’ve been iced with frosting. In fact, if the cake hasn’t been cut, the frosting acts as a seal, eliminating the need for a tight wrap and refrigeration. The rules for how to store baked goods varies depending on the type of baked good and whether or not it’s been cut into, so be sure to read our full guide on how to store baked goods to know exactly what can stay on the counter safely.
While it’s true that refrigerating your bread will help keep it from getting moldy over time, it also dries bread out, which changes the texture. If you prefer your bread soft and flavorful, keep it on the counter. The key is to use it up within several days. If you can’t, consider popping half of the loaf into the freezer, which will preserve both taste and texture. Then, when you’re done with the bread on the counter, thaw the freezer bread and repeat. You can also use this gorgeous modern bread bin that we spied at Williams-Sonoma.
Berries are also in season and tasting delicious these days, and like so many of the most wonderful things in life, they aren’t meant to last long. While the refrigerator will help keep berries a little longer, it will also compromise their flavor. Instead, keep them unwashed at room temperature (wash just before eating) and try one of these products that help keep produce fresher longer.
8. Peaches, plums and cherries
Stone fruits are undeniably best when they are soft and juicy and the surest way to make them hard and mealy is to pop them in the refrigerator, where they will stop ripening. The exception to that is if you find yourself with fruit about to go overripe, in which case you want to stop the ripening process by popping the fruit in the fridge for another day or two. Check out our guide on how to use and store stone fruit for details by type of fruit (and also score a slew of great recipes).
And here I thought that I should be storing coffee in the freezer! In fact, cold temps and condensation can zap beans and grounds of their moisture and flavor. To make sure that your coffee has all the delicious, life affirming flavor you want, keep beans and grounds in an air-tight container in a cool, dark, unrefrigerated place.
You may decide to refrigerate your pickles if you prefer how they taste cold, but doing so is certainly not necessary. Remember that pickling is a way of preserving. All that sodium in the brine keeps pickles of any kind from spoiling without refrigeration, keeping them safe for quite a while